This book just kept showing up. Like. Everywhere. When this happens, I just know I have to read it, it’s like the Universe keeps shoving it in my face. The last straw was when I walked into Indigo on Boxing day and was pushed by the crowd in front of this one book shelf that I wish I had taken a picture of.
The only books sitting on it were copies of Secret Daughter.
So I sighed, smiled, and picked up the book.
Not that I didn’t want to read it, I mean it’s written by a Desi author, has a girl wearing shalwar kameez on the cover, and alludes to issue of female infanticide. I didn’t need to know that it was an international bestseller to be convinced.
And let me tell you, that this book delivered. I wouldn’t say it was ‘harrowing’ as the Ottawa Citizen described it, but it was heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.
For the record, I’m terrible at book reviews. I love talking about books, but reviews? Ugh. In fact, I wasn’t even good at them in grade school, it was the only thing in English class I almost never got great marks on, that used to infuriate me so much. ESPECIALLY in grade 7. See there was this boy..and I didn’t like this boy, he was mean, a bully, annoying, and I always wanted to hit him (we had weird interactions. I blame his unusually gorgeous eyes..the only good thing about him.)..and he ALWAYS did better on book reviews than me..and then the taunting. GAAAH! Why was this dumb bully getting better grades than me ON A STUPID BOOK REVIEW?!
But I digress.
It was fascinating to read the book because it revolved around two starkly different families. One family was in USA, an Indian born doctor married a typical white girl who is also a doctor. The other family lives in a rural village in India near Mumbai, where female infanticide is practiced. What binds these families together is their daughter.
Kavita, the rural village mother gives birth to her second baby — another girl — and knows that if her husband finds out, he will take her away from her forever..just like he did her first baby girl. So she treks to Mumbai with her sister on foot to give away her daughter to an orphanage so that she may live. She lives with grief and sadness her entire life, always praying for the daughter she gave away, Usha. It means dawn.
Somer is an American doctor who married Krishnan, — Kris —, and is unable to have children. She discovers this after having many harrowing miscarriages, and is heartbroken. At the urging of her husband, she agrees to check out an Indian orphanage his mother is a patron to, and they quickly fall in love with a girl with hazel eyes, who they are told is named Asha. It means hope.
The story revolves first around Kavita and Somer and then Asha’s perspective is added in when she grows up. It’s such an intimate exploration of motherhood. What it means to be a mother. And what it means to have a mother.
One particular sentence haunts me because it’s so true. It haunts me because globally this is how most women are looked at..and it’s not right..on so many levels.
She cannot face it all again. She can’t go through the baby food tasting contest, or the ‘guess how big Gabi’s tummy is’ game. She can’t watch everyone oohing and ahhing over each darling little outfit. She can’t listen to the women discussing stretch marks and labor pains as rites of passage. Everyone acts as if being a woman and a mother are inextricably intertwined. A fair assumption, since she made it herself. Only now does she know it’s an enormous lie.
(emphasis is mine) That’s haunting. Haunting because everyone around us expects that we will become mothers. That we will want to become mothers. Because generally women are born with a uterus that is capable of becoming a womb for a baby.
Just because you’re capable of something doesn’t mean you have to do it.
Just because I have a uterus doesn’t means I have to become a mother.
A woman who chooses not to become a mother is not any less a woman.
A woman who adopts a child instead of having biological children is not any less a mother.
A mother is a mother not because she shares DNA with you. She’s your mother because she brought you up, took care of, gave herself to the upbringing, care, and love of her child.
The book has a number of sub plots. And maybe it’s because I’ve been recently extra immersed in subjects and topics that are women-specific, I was especially sensitive to them.
At one point, Somer realizes that somewhere along the way in taking care of her daughter and her family, she lost herself. Let herself go, physically, mentally, and spiritually. She no longer had interests. She didn’t do things for herself…that ultimately made her the person that her family loved. She lost herself in her devotion to her family so much that she almost lost her family.
I see that so much. I see that everywhere. And yet, how does one avoid it? A baby is helpless. A little child is mostly helpless. When you have a child, your entire life revolves around them. Every decision is affected by their presence. It’s really easy to just let them become your entire life. But that’s really dangerous. Dangerous for you and dangerous for your relationship to your child.
One day, the child will grow up. And they will do things. Things that will bring you joy, sadness, anger, all sorts of things. And if they are your life..that can feel like a personal affront. Like you failed as a parent if they do things you don’t like. Like there was no point to all those years you devoted to them. And when they leave, because they will leave, it will feel like they took your entire life with them.
You can love someone fully, wholly, truly, without losing yourself in them..and ultimately, I think that’s the foundation of the best of loves. And that’s what shows up in this novel too.